Updated: December 4, 2022
Are you looking for a destination with world-famous beaches, dense tropical forests, stellar cocktails, and the chill vibe of slow island life? If yes, then you don’t need to look any further than St. John in the Caribbean. Traveling to St. John and US Virgin Islands, in general, can feel a bit intimidating since they are unique and different from the mainland US. This post will cover 17 Tips and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about visiting US Virgin Island St. John so you can have a smooth sailing adventure!
First, let’s start with a bit of history and geography. St. John is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is the smallest of the trio of the main islands that includes St. Thomas and St. Croix. But don’t let its size and lack of an airport deter you from exploring this Caribbean gem. This inactive volcanic island has rocks from as early as 100 million years ago. Basically, the same period that dinosaurs first appeared on the earth!
It was originally inhabited by the Arawak and Carib Indians. The British and Danes both tried to stake their claims on the island until 1762 when it was recognized as Danish. Thereafter, the United States purchased it during the First World War in 1917 to establish a naval base.
The island is about two-thirds national park with much to discover from the corals and sea turtles underwater to challenging peaks and tropical forests above. So without further ado, here is everything you need to know to plan a fantastic trip to St. John!
It depends on your citizenship. While St. John is a US territory, there is an immigration checkpoint at the time of departure from the US Virgin Islands where you’ll need the appropriate documentation based on your status to return to the mainland.
US citizens traveling to/from a US territory do not need a passport to visit the US Virgin Islands provided they are not touching any foreign places (for example the British Virgin Islands). So pack your passport if you’re planning to do some island hopping to nearby islands not part of the US. If not, you will only need a Government-issued photo ID like a driver’s license.
Green Cardholders will need their passport and Green Cards. If you are on an H1-B work visa, you should carry your passport (which should include the H1-B visa stamp) as well as your I-797 to showcase eligibility to enter the US.
Don’t forget to carry the physical Global Entry card if you are enrolled in the Global Entry program. A Global Entry kiosk isn’t available at St Thomas but there is a separate line for Global Entry cardholders.
Also, be prepared to answer questions about where you’ve stayed and the costs of any purchased items you’re bringing back to ensure they are within these duty-free limits.
What is the best time to visit St John?
December to March is the best time to visit the island as the weather is not scorching hot. This is also peak tourist season, however, so be prepared to spend the extra bucks and plan in advance.
St. John’s temperature is in the 70s and 80s all year round. If you’re working with a tighter budget, consider visiting from April to June after the peak season rush has ended and before the hurricane season begins.
The hurricane season from July to November is best avoided. There will be storms and plenty of rain even if a hurricane doesn’t arrive.
What are the best things to see and do on St. John?
St John’s main attraction is its dreamy white beaches with clear waters ranging in all shades of blue from turquoise to sapphire. Use this detailed guide with a list of amenities and directions to plan your beach visits. It also excels in refreshing drinks from local tropical brews to cocktails with fun names like Bushwacker and Painkiller! These are the perfect accompaniment to your hot beach outings.
There are incredible hiking opportunities with more than twenty lush tropical trails for a variety of skill levels. History abounds from ancient petroglyphs to crumbling walls of plantation ruins that you can easily combine with your hiking and beach trips.
While in St. John, don’t forget to try the local Caribbean fare like Pate, Johnny cakes, and rotis.
Are there any COVID restrictions for travel to US Virgin Islands?
No, domestic travelers and international travelers are no longer required to complete the USVI Travel Screening Portal or present an approved green QR code to travel to the USVI.
In the past, you needed to receive clearance from USVI Travel Portal before you could travel to US Virgin Islands. Do keep in mind that these rules may change in the future if the COVID situation changes. Start keeping an eye out for any requirement updates a few days before you fly. My husband and I traveled during December 2021 and January 2022 when Omicron was still a concern. So we had to submit negative COVID-19 test results within 5 days of travel despite being fully vaccinated.
Is there an airport on St John?
No, St. John does not have an airport. But that may be a blessing in disguise since you’ll have to contend with fewer crowds than at St. Croix and St. Thomas. The nearest airport is Cyril E. King Airport (STT) on St. Thomas.
How do I get from St Thomas to St John?
You’ll take a flight to Cyril E. King Airport (STT) on St. Thomas followed by a ferry to get to St. John. Hop on a shared taxi from the airport for about 18-20$ per person (including one carry-on size roller bag) to the ferry terminal on St. Thomas. These taxis are basically vans and easy to locate as soon as you step out of the airport. You’ll find several drivers asking if you need a taxi. They usually work in a group and will guide you to the appropriate vehicle based on your group size.
There are two ferry terminals on St. Thomas – Red Hook and the capital city of Charlotte Amalie.
Red Hook is the more popular and convenient option of the two. It has people ferries, as well as car ferries, headed for St. John. The people ferry runs at least once every hour and takes about 10-15 minutes. A detailed schedule can be seen and booked here or you can purchase a ticket at the Red Hook ferry terminal. If you are arriving with a car from St. Thomas, you will need to book the car ferry with Love City Car Ferries or Big Red Barge which run at limited times during the day. The Charlotte Amalie people ferry runs at limited times during the day (presently three times a day each way). This ferry terminal is closer to the airport but it’s a longer boat ride.
Pick one of these options based on your flight arrival and departure time. Both ferries arrive at Cruz Bay, the main hub and town on the western part of St. John. Here can pick up your rental car if it is in the town center (make sure to book it in advance) or get a shared taxi to your lodging. Unless you are exactly in the town center, it is not advisable to walk to your rental home as the streets are very steep and not conducive to walking with luggage.
All addresses in St. John are not searchable on Google since houses are also built on provisional roads. This is particularly important if you are not staying in a resort or hotel but rather in a vacation rental. Your host should share directions on how to reach the property. Try to ask them about the nearest landmark known to locals so you can easily explain it to the taxi driver.
Are credit cards accepted in St John?
Yes but not everywhere. A good portion of the US Virgin Islands economy is cash-based. You will definitely need cash if you’re planning to take a taxi around St. John or even between the airport and ferry terminals on St. Thomas.
In addition, some food establishments only accept cash while others have a surcharge of 1-3% on credit card payments. There is also a 10$ minimum for credit card purchases in places like grocery stores.
You should plan on bringing 25-50% of your daily spending budget in cash depending on your mode of transport. There are ATMs in the Cruz Bay area but these aren’t the popular mainland banks like Chase or Bank of America. So be prepared to pay transaction fees on both sides when withdrawing money. We paid 2.5$ on Chase’s end and anywhere between 2.5 – 6$ on the USVI end per withdrawal. There is also a maximum withdrawal limit in the range of 200-500$ per transaction depending on the ATM.
Is St John walkable?
The main town center of Cruz Bay is walkable as long as you don’t mind zigzagging for sidewalks that are sometimes only on one side of the street. Walking around the rest of St. John feels more like hiking rather than walking. It gets pretty steep as you get further from Cruz Bay, beyond the Dolphin Market and Starfish Markets. Plan on wearing sturdy footwear if you’re going to walk even for a short distance in those areas. Be very careful with the traffic on the narrow mountainous roads.
How does the St John taxi work?
St. John is one of the destinations that lends itself quite well to a car-free vacation if you are living in the Cruz Bay area. Having a car of course offers the ultimate freedom to get to any part of the island at any hour. There are several car rental companies on St. John or you can bring one along from St. Thomas in the car ferry. But if you would rather enjoy the views without having to worry about the steep hills and hairpin turns, you can easily get around in a taxi.
Taxis in St. John are mostly shared and look like the big siblings of autorickshaws or tuktuks in Asia. They can seat anywhere from 20-28 people depending on their size. They charge per person, so you will need to factor that in and see if makes financial sense for your group size. Below is a chart of the fares to give you an idea. This chart is plastered in front of the first row of seats.
Taxis are easy to locate at the stand right by the ferry dock or you can flag them down on the road. The most popular route is along the stretch of North Shore beaches where they stop at specific beaches requested by the riders. They won’t necessarily stop at all beaches so make sure to let them know exactly where you’re getting off. On the way back, they usually stop at all the main beaches (but not the lesser-known ones like Jumbie or Oppenheimer) until they run out of space. The taxis along North Shore Road run until 5:30 or 6 pm latest when the Paddle-In Tiki Bar closes up. Several of the beach rentals start closing around 4 pm so that’s usually a good time to find a taxi back home or to Cruz Bay.
Keep in mind that drivers may be less willing to go to other attractions outside of the Northshore Beach route for singles and couples. We once waited 20-30 minutes to get a taxi to the Reef Bay trailhead. And on the way back we hiked the Maria Hope trail to get to the Maho Bay taxi stand since that’s easier than finding a taxi on Centerline Road. The best way to arrange for taxis for offbeat locations is to get the phone number of a driver that’s either recommended by your host or someone that you met on arrival and contact them in advance. You might not have cell coverage in certain areas so it is better to fix a time and place in advance where you can be picked up for your return.
There are also island tours like Explore STJ and Star Fish Tours and Taxi that give you a deeper dive into parts of the island that lie outside of the typical beach route. This can be a great activity that complements your beach rides. The shared taxis also provide a low-cost island tour version.
What kind of sunscreen is approved for use in the US Virgin Islands?
Only reef-safe mineral sunscreen is permitted for use in the US Virgin Islands. Reef-safe sunscreen protects coral reefs and marine life. Read the label carefully since many sunscreens are incorrectly marked as reef friendly. Skip the sunscreens with Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, nano-Titanium dioxide, nano-Zinc oxide, and avobenzone.
Instead, opt for non-nanotized, natural mineral-based sunscreens containing zinc or titanium dioxide that are less likely to cause harm. Also, try to rely on clothing and accessories for sun protection whenever possible. One of my favorite beach bag contents these days is a UPF sun shawl in a cooling fabric that can be used in a multitude of ways. A large hat, sunglasses, and rashguard can help reduce the reliance on sunscreens alone for preventing sun damage.
What are the food costs in St John?
On average, be prepared to pay much more for meals on St. John than you’d do in the rest of the mainland US. Almost everything is shipped to the island which is eventually reflected on the price stickers and menus. The pandemic and its related supply-chain disruptions have raised these costs further. While this is not meant to be a deterrent to visiting the islands, it is important to plan and reserve the appropriate budget so you can enjoy a stress-free vacation.
Food costs can vary depending on whether you’re eating at casual sit-down restaurants, delis, food trucks, or cooking at home. You could be spending anything from 8$ if you’re satiated by a couple of pates to about 30$ per person for every meal if you’re going for something special like a poke bowl in a restaurant. This does not include the cost of drinks which can quickly add up, even during happy hour! Also, you’ll be spending much more if you’d like to indulge in some fine dining on occasion. Keep an eye out for happy hour specials and plan your meal times accordingly to reduce costs.
Cooking meals at home will usually work out much cheaper than eating out and help stretch your dollar further when you’re trying to stay within a daily budget. Be intentional with your ingredients since many fresh produce items may come with a higher price tag. My advice to keep costs low is to avoid shopping with specific recipes in mind as you’d normally do at home but rather pick out the reasonably priced ingredients and be flexible with your menu planning.
Below are some of the lowest prices for essential everyday grocery items to give you an idea. These costs are from January 2022 so you can expect higher costs with the current inflation.
Bananas = $1.29/lb
Whole strawberries = $5.79
Hass avocado = $4.00 – $5.00 per count
Plum tomatoes = $3.29/lb
Red onions = $2.90/lb
Baby kale mix = $6.99
Organic girl baby spring mix = $7.99
Black beans can = $1.69
Rice = $2.19
Eggs = $2.19/dozen
Silk plain soymilk = $5.69
Wheat bread = $5.49
Ritz whole wheat crackers = $6.95
Aveeno body wash for sensitive skin = $13.59
Pepsodent toothpaste = $1.95
Are there big chain grocery stores in St John?
You won’t find the super-sized shopping centers and grocery chains like Walmart and Kroger from the mainland on the island. But your daily needs will be more than met at one of the several marts on St. John.
Dolphin Market, Starfish Market, and Pine Peace Mini Mart were the places we frequented in Cruz Bay. They carried everything from snacks to packaged meal ingredients and produce to toiletries. Keep in mind that certain items may only be available in certain stores. For example, the Gillette foam shaving cream was only available in Pine Peace, avocados only showed up in the produce section in Starfish and Dolphin carried the widest selection of non-dairy milk alternatives. So be prepared to look around if you need something very specific.
As a light traveler, I often skip the generic toiletries and grab them during my first grocery run at the destination. But I was glad to have made an exception and carried my haircare and skincare products from home this time. All these little extras which may not amount to much at home can sneakily add up in the US Virgin Islands.
Are in-unit washer dryers widely available? If not, are there any dry cleaners and laundromats in St John?
In-unit washer dryers are not very common in all villas and vacation rentals. You will also likely be paying a much higher price if they are included in the property.
There are only a couple of laundromats/dry cleaners available in St. John. Santo’s Laundromat is conveniently located near Cruz Bay with washers starting at 5$ for a small machine and going up to 12$ for the bigger ones. The dryer runs for about 10 minutes for 1$ so you’re looking at another 4-6$ for the usual 40 – 60 minutes run. There’s a nice spot right outside under the tamarind tree where you can wait and chat with other customers. Kilroy’s nearby has a laundry and dry cleaning service but no coin-operated machines.
Depending on the length of your stay, handwashing the clothes at your rental and drying them outside in the sun might be your best alternative.
Does US Virgin Islands have a water shortage?
Not exactly. But USVI sets an admirable example in water conservation. More than 90% of the people on the islands get their water from rainwater harvesting. There are cisterns usually built into the foundation of the house to collect rain from rooftops.
This makes water conservation practices extremely crucial when visiting St. John. Simple actions like turning the tap off when lathering soap or scrubbing the dishes can go a long way in saving water for your hosts.
We did face minor water disruptions a couple of times but they were only for short durations for a two plus weeks stay. The host promptly sent the building engineer who would check in on the water levels and switch to the appropriate tank (main versus reserve) to restart the water.
Are there lots of bugs in St John?
Yes, mosquitos and no-see-ums are very common in St. John. Bug spray is a must-have not only when hiking but anytime you are staying outside after sundown. An indoor insect repellant spray or ultrasonic repeller is a very useful tool for home use before you retire for the night.
Be proactive and carry an anti-itch cream since there is still a likelihood of getting bit despite precautions. A paste of baking soda mixed with water also alleviates the itch.
How are the healthcare facilities in St John?
There are a handful of healthcare centers and clinics in St John where you can get medical care for minor to moderate issues. These are located on the western side of the island at Myrah Keating Smith Health Center, Cruz Bay Family Practice, Island Health and Wellness Center, and Morris F. deCastro Clinic. For more extensive medical care, you will need to be transferred to the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas.
These facilities will most likely be out-of-network, unlike other states in the mainland US. It is important to keep this in mind and budget for unforeseen medical costs or purchase travel insurance that covers these along with medical evacuation depending on your overall health and activities.
How can I stay updated on the weather and news of St John?
An amazing resource that I discovered before our trip was News of St. John, an online blog with the daily happenings of the island. From restaurant recommendations to whale activity to information about changing COVID-19 testing requirements, this blog packs so much relevant information that will definitely come in handy before and during your trip.
For the daily weather update, you can join the St John VI Weather Facebook Group which gives you the weather forecast in an easily digestible format that you can use to plan your daily activities.
I also follow local restaurants or businesses that we plan to visit during our stay on social media to stay abreast of the latest updates and any unforeseen closures.
Hope these FAQs and tips help you make the most of your time in the US Virgin Islands. Is there anything else you would like to know about visiting St. John? Drop your questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!
11/17/22 you need c to ipdate on Covid restrictions. But thanks for all the info.
Thank you Carol. This has been updated now.